REDHILL, United Kingdom — On February 6, 2023, an earthquake with a magnitude of 7.8 hit Turkey and Syria, killing over 50,000 people and leaving 100,000 more injured. Overall, the devastating effects of the earthquake have impacted approximately 26 million people. It left a catastrophic level of damage in its wake, destroying or severely damaging over 160,000 buildings in Turkey alone. According to a 2022 Turkish Consumer Rights Association report, only around 10% of the country’s population lives above the poverty line. The effects of the earthquake in Turkey are likely to intensify this issue, making domestic and international aid vital.
The Impact of Natural Disasters on Poverty
According to CARE International, humanitarian disasters like earthquakes can prevent people’s ability to be upwardly mobile and cause an inescapable cycle of poverty. At a global conference on mitigating disaster risk in 2011, Robert Glasser, the Secretary-General of CARE, explained: “Poverty causes disasters and disasters cause poverty. When disasters strike, poor people often lose their assets on which their survival depends. At the same time, their limited resources and lack of access to education and health services can increase their exposure to risks.” Natural disasters disproportionally affect developing countries due to limited resources and natural disasters often increase existing wealth inequality issues. Limited funding for adequate housing, health facilities and infrastructure can exacerbate the effects of a natural disaster.
The loss of a house can often mean the loss of a person’s livelihood, impeding their ability to buy a new residence and removing their economic security. According to a report by the World Bank and the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery, around 26 million people fall below the poverty line each year due to extreme natural disasters. These people then cannot partake in consumerist activities, leading to a global loss of $520 billion yearly.
The Borgen Project spoke to Ali, a 15-year-old boy who has been involved in relief efforts for the earthquake in Turkey. “The situation was so terrible; it was really, really hard and sad because there were no homes left. The earthquake destroyed all the houses and all the things in the cities and villages. There was no electricity or working lights. It was really sad to see these things; a lot of people were outside because they no longer had a house.”
When it comes to people’s first reaction, Ali states “We were there to make tents and temporary housing for people to sleep in. There were lots of people, dead or injured, under destroyed houses –and people were trying to reach them. People had no food, nothing at all. The situation really broke my heart and I wanted to stay and help them for years, not for days or months. Anyone would feel that way if they saw it.”
Volunteering For the Community
“I was in Adiyaman (Kurdish: Semsûr), which is next to my city, Mardin. I was volunteering with a Muslim organization called something like the Science and Law Charity in English (Ilim ve Irfan Vakfi).” Ali explains that he “volunteered every day for a month instead of going to school because there was no school at that time.”
“I was in a group of 20 people who came from my town to help, a few were my friends, and then some others. Every day, we would unload supplies from the trucks and hand them out – tents, clothes, food and the emergency response stuff.”
Ali further explains, “We were making hot food and giving it out – some people were cooking and some were washing dishes. I was washing dishes. We traveled from village to village, helping people in the area. We helped lots of people. It’s not possible to count how many. When we gave people food and supplies – when they saw that we were helping them, they felt happy. Helping them was the best part, it put that energy into me that I wanted to keep helping them.”
“I wanted to help because my cousin died in the earthquake. He was in Hatay for work, he went with his cousin, they had only been there for a few days when the earthquake hit – they both died. It was not just one city, it was lots of cities that were affected. I really wanted to help the people and see what the situation was like. There were no international charities with us, most of the work was done by locals. The Turkish Red Cross and the army were there. People in the cities donated supplies for us to give out.”
Foreign Aid to Turkey
The international response to the earthquake was huge, likely due to Turkey’s past substantial humanitarian aid. The focus has shifted from rescue to recovery as Turkey tries to rebuild not only its houses but also its economic activities. By February 18, 2023, 102 countries had pledged to support Turkey, and over 74 international teams participated in the rescue efforts. The World Bank sent Turkey $1.78 billion, the United States contributed $185 million and the United Kingdom provided £25 million to Turkey and Syria.
In response to previous aid to Turkey, even countries struggling with their own financial issues rushed to Turkey’s aid: Somalia with $3 million, Bangladesh with pledges to send medicine and food and Afghanistan with $165,000, Al Jazeera reports.
Despite so much both local and international aid, it will still take many years to recover from the earthquake in Turkey and Syria. However, as long as there are people willing to donate money and volunteer their time, all hope is not lost.
– Tasha B. Johnson